"We wanted the workspaces in the new office to be as flexible and compact as possible, so switching to thin-client devices seemed appropriate," said Ron Pluylaar, ICT Manager at CHDR. "And with more than 100 desktop PCs but only two dedicated IT personnel, that was a big benefit for us. However, we didn’t want to lose the investment in all of our existing desktop PCs."
SUSE Studio provides an easy-to-use web interface for building software appliances, starting from the base operating system. Developers can choose from a range of SUSE Linux operating system templates and can modify the OS as required before adding software packages. This enabled Netflex to easily remove a number of components that would not be required by its thin-client environment.
"With SUSE Studio, it was very easy to shrink the OS image down to just the elements we needed," said Rens Kattenberg, Consultant, Netflex. "We managed to keep the final image down below 200 MB, enabling us to achieve very short boot times from the USB keys. It’s also easy with SUSE Studio to lock down the operating system, which is exactly what you need for a kiosk."
Netflex used SUSE Studio to add the .rpm for the VMware View client, to test the resulting appliance, and to package it as a bootable USB image.
"When the solution boots from the USB key, it copies the SUSE operating system image into a virtual drive in the memory, which enables very good performance," says Rens Kattenberg. “It also means that users effectively get a clean 'golden' copy of the operating system each time. Any changes that are made disappear as soon as the machine is turned off, making it impossible for users to break the software. Local data on each PC's hard drive remains available for use after the migration to thin client, which makes the transition easier for the users."
Netflex also set up two new VMware ESX Servers capable of supporting 60 concurrent virtual desktop sessions, and helped CHDR to create three standard virtual desktop images. The first is a persistent administrator's environment based on Windows XP and used by IT staff; the second, a non-persistent Windows XP environment used by all staff; and the third, a Windows 7 environment for testing purposes.
"Rather than having multiple different virtual desktops for each different type of user, which quickly gets very complicated, we decided to have a standard master image for everyone," said Ron Pluylaar. "For each group of users—for example: finance staff, secretaries, medical staff—we use VMware ThinApp to serve virtual applications specific to their role when they log in."
"There was initially some resistance from users, who were accustomed to having complete control over their desktops," said Ron Pluylaar. “But the moment they saw that the user experience was exactly the same when working from home or even on an iPad, all the objections disappeared. VMware View is fast and efficient, and it gives everyone access to their own files and workspace no matter how they choose to log in. It even supports dual screens on a single PC, which is something that we use extensively."
The move to a thin-client architecture has improved performance for users, and also ensures consistent responsiveness whatever the age or specification of the desktop PC. “The OS image created by Netflex using SUSE Studio is lean and mean—there's no clutter to slow the local machine down,” says Ron Pluylaar. "The USB keys represented the easiest and most cost-effective way to transition to a thin-client environment, because there was no need to buy new hardware."
When CHDR has written off its investment in the current hardware, it will move to purpose- built thin-client machines that connect directly to VMware View without requiring any local install. In the meantime, the USB keys are the ideal solution, and can be easily be upgraded if CHDR’s requirements change.
"Moving to a thin-client environment offers numerous benefits," says Ron Pluylaar. "In terms of the user experience, thin-client devices are fast, consistent and highly reliable. And for the business, they mean less investment in local hardware, less time and effort spent on managing that hardware, lower energy consumption, and an improved ability to manage software centrally. With SUSE Studio, Netflex enabled us to start getting these benefits rapidly and with minimal disruption."